Cats are often mistaken for loners - but they are very social creatures with a sophisticated hierarchy and group structure. They hunt alone, but otherwise they like to have company around them. It can happen that the animals bind themselves too closely to their caregiver and panic if they are not nearby - then cats are afraid of separation.
Where does separation anxiety come from in cats?
It may sound surprising that separation anxiety is not only a problem for dogs, but also for cats. After all, dogs have been bred specifically for a long time for people-relatedness - some breeds like companion dogs more, other breeds like herd guard dogs less. It is usually desirable that the four-legged friends enter into a close partnership with their person, and that dogs are sad when their caregiver leaves them alone is hardly surprising. However, that doesn't mean that all dogs get this anxiety disorder, it just means that they're a little more prone to it than cats.
Why some velvet paws feel separation anxiety is not exactly clear. It is believed that premature separation from the cat mother may promote later anxiety disorder. Kittens who have been raised by hand usually bind very closely to their human foster parents, which also increases the risk of separation anxiety in cats. Some breeds of cats are also considered to be more affectionate and people-related than others - they may also have difficulties one day with being alone.
However, not every animal that is susceptible or at increased risk for this type of anxiety disorder develops psychological problems. Most of the time there is also a trigger, a special stressful situation such as moving, the death of a close friend or a great fright.
Possible symptoms in cats with separation anxiety
The symptoms of separation anxiety in cats can vary from animal to animal. However, it is almost always a question of behavioral changes, such as uncleanliness. Affected animals then pee in your absence, for example, in bed or in the pile of dirty laundry - they try to mix their own smell with that of their caregiver in order to feel more secure and to calm down. Other cats may react with "destruction rage" and take apart the apartment and furnishings as soon as you leave them alone.
Another warning sign that comes into question is an increased cleaning drive, which can lead to bald spots in the fur. Loss of appetite or swallowing food in loneliness are also possible. In many animals, conspicuous behavior can also be observed in the presence of the caregiver. For example, they are overly affectionate, follow their favorite person everywhere and meow continuously and very loudly when they say goodbye or when they think they are alone, for example at night.
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If you behave abnormally, see a veterinarian first!
Caution! The symptoms mentioned can, but do not have to indicate separation anxiety in cats. There can also be an organic cause behind the behavior disorders. For example, loud nocturnal meows in old cats can be signs of dementia or symptoms of the onset of deafness. Loss of appetite can be caused by a number of diseases and should always be clarified by the veterinarian anyway. Looping food can also have several reasons. Uncleanliness does not necessarily have to have psychological triggers, but occurs partly as a result of a urinary tract disease. In addition to fear of separation, "rage to destroy" can also mean boredom.
Treat separation anxiety in cats: tips
If your veterinarian has ruled out organic causes for your cat's behavior, it is best to contact a cat psychologist. It can help you and your pet build a healthy relationship without fear of leaving. In addition, it makes sense to make some changes in your home so that your cat can be more easily occupied alone and distracted from your absence. The English term for this is called "Environmental Enrichment" - it is about making the environment more exciting and stimulating for the animal.
A great scratching post, viewpoints at the window, climbing opportunities and various hiding places are a good start, for example. If your cat was previously a single animal with separation anxiety, consider bringing in a second cat. Perhaps you also have the opportunity to offer your secure access in the garden or on the balcony? Also play a lot with your pet when you are at home and reserve time, preferably twice a day, for a game hour with your house tiger.
Positive reinforcement helps you reward your cat's desired behavior - for example, if she stays completely relaxed after you have briefly left the room. On the other hand, it's best to ignore unwanted behavior. This also means that you do not immediately comfort your cat if it shows signs of separation anxiety. Otherwise you will reward the wrongdoing.